Do you remember when Count Dracula spent several sleepless nights clearing an entire hillside so he could manufacture industrial quantities of wooden planks to build his castle? Yes, I do not either – but in V Rising it’s a big part of your vampire lifestyle. Fortunately, it also has some quick and exciting ARPG battles to make up for. I’m now a little more than halfway through crossing the list of bosses off, and so far these showdowns have been worth the wear and tear to hone for resources.
As a newly resurrected vampire entering a world where humans have mostly chased your kind into the shadows, this mashup of Diablo and ARK: Survival evolved does not waste much time on storytelling. The descriptions of the different bosses give a sense of how the world is put together, but there is not really a plot to follow. You build a blood altar, you get a list of special enemies you have to kill to unlock new abilities and better technologies, and you’re on the hunt. It does not bother me that much, but I can sometimes wonder what my ultimate goal should be.
Part of that is because a lot of V Rising feels a bit like a blow. Resource collection is slow and it takes even longer to refine them at craft stations. Fortunately, if you play solo, you can create a world where trees and ore fields provide more resources, and refining goes much faster. This is probably the only way to make the experience acceptable if you do not have a vampire clan to help with all the crafting tasks.
And even then, there is a lot of waiting time for ore to melt or for boards to be milled. You can go and make other things while this is happening, but the development is hard locked behind making recipes that require these refined materials, so there is not much meaningful to do in the meantime. There are not even experience points – all your power is tied to designed equipment. So you are mostly limited to assembling several materials.
There are other disadvantages to playing solo, which, however, can not be bypassed by world settings. At one point I came to ask why, as a vampire with my own castle, I did not just want henchmen to do my woodcutting for me. And it turns out in the end that you can charm NPCs and make them work for you. But the missions you send them on can take up to a full day in real time to complete. And if you have an offline storage, this timer is only active when you are actually playing. So unless you are setting up a dedicated server or letting the client run around the clock, you can have two or three of these made in total, ever.
Playing on public servers allows you to team up with other vampires and engage in PvP, including the siege of enemy castles on some server types. But it introduces its own set of problems. For example, I chose a server with a lower population on the second day of Early Access and found that even there were pretty much all the good castles already taken. I had to go to a higher level where the enemies could almost fire at me to build my home base. Other players’ castles can also block convenient shortcuts, making the world harder to get around. And worst of all, if there are 50 Gothic vampire fortresses in this one little forest, then mine does not feel very special. It’s less of a living dark fantasy world and more of a spooky suburb at the time.
Screens – V Rising
That said, the fight is pretty good. The wide range of flashy, fun and deadly active unlocking capabilities allows for some amazing builds. I especially liked The Blood Tree, which focuses on healing yourself throughout the fight. The one thing that annoys me is that there is no mana-bar, so all your active abilities are on pretty long chills. This can lead to moments of powerlessness if everything is cooling down at the same time, which happens a lot to me, and I miss the in-combat resource management of more traditional ARPGs. At least giving me more than one use of my hyphen before I have to wait several seconds, or basing movement forces on an endurance system, would have been great!
The bosses, however, are challenging and well-designed meetings. They really are the highlight of V Rising. From zealous human hunters to creepy necromancers, no one feels alike in fighting style or personality, which really keeps things interesting and served as a strong motivation for me to see what else they could throw me over. I have struggled against 20 of them so far in my 40 hours on my solo file and there are still 15 left.
While I may not exactly feel like a bad vampire when I run around doing chores, the survival mechanics do a good job of remedying this. There is a full day / night cycle, and standing in the sun will begin to drain your health quickly after a short repayment period. Moving during the day is still entirely possible if you are careful, thanks to the fact that anything that casts a shadow in the environment can serve as a safe haven. It’s a really cool touch. Shadows even change during the day, so dinner is a more dangerous time to be outside than dawn or dusk.
It is also appropriate to keep your blood supply charged as it is your main way of healing out of battle. Taking enough damage will ultimately reduce not only your current health, but your maximum health, and digestion of blood is the only way to restore it. What’s even better is that the blood type from the last enemy you fed on temporarily gives you a grade of class that comes with practical bonuses like increased critical chance of rogue or damage resistance to animals. How big a bonus is based on the blood quality of your victim, which is semi-randomized and encourages you to seek out a particularly tasty prey. I enjoyed how this system allowed me to adapt my fighting style right away and encouraged me to behave like a picky hunter.
Customizing your personal castle is also a lot of fun, with tons of functional and cosmetic items to unlock from spooky, floating candelabra to a hungry treasure chest that recycles unwanted items into their component materials. You must continue to feed your castle blood essence to keep it active, which comes from virtually any enemy you kill. This is not a big issue in an offline game as essence will only be consumed when you play and you can save up several days in the real world so you are unlikely to ever run out. But on a public server, if you do not log in at least once or twice a week to top it, you will eventually lose your space. So it’s something of a needy game.
I really like the art direction in general. It’s a bit stylized and cartoonish, but not in a way that detracts from the horror aspects. Whether I’m exploring a foggy, haunted forest, chopping my way through a skeleton-infested cemetery, or sneaking into a pastoral human village – bundled top to toe in rags, which is not at all suspicious – everything is very readable and eye-catching. It’s never a pain to find out what’s going on in battle, and environmentalists have made great use of colors to create a variety of moods and vibes. This is only helped by the soundtrack, which generally fits what I would call stereotypical vampire music – all the sad strings and melodramatic piano melodies – but it’s done well.
The verdict (so far)
While its time-consuming craft aspects can take the bite out of the vampire fantasy, V Rising really strikes a chord with its superb boss design and respectable ARPG combat. A great vampire game is not so much defined by the fantasy of power as it is by how well it forces you to bypass the interesting lifestyles and weaknesses of the undead, so you keep the deadly rays from the sun and your dwindling blood supply as ongoing worries are effective and evocative . It’s not an automatic recommendation from me yet, even though I have close to half of the bosses left, but there are definitely a lot of good things to put my teeth into already. If I were to score it now, I would give it a 7, but I keep going until I take down every last boss before I finish this review, so check back for more later.